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Can an 1865 Newspaper Article Provide Some Perspective on Today?s Economic Woes?

2 min readBy: Alicia Hansen

With all the recent heated debate and turmoil over taxes, and the frantic rush to stimulate the economy, one might almost think this is the first time the country has faced less-than-ideal economic conditions.

Sometimes it helps to take a step back and remind ourselves of the resiliency of the economy and the fiscal challenges the country has faced in the past.

Following is an excerpt from an 1865 New York Times article titled ‘TAXATION-ARTICLE NO. 1. The Wants of the Government.” The author, writing in the post-Civil War U.S., reminds his readers of the advantages the U.S. economy has over other countries, even in difficult times. While the particular advantage he describes is not as relevant today, perhaps his general optimism about the economy should be adopted by some of today’s policymakers who predict economic doom and gloom if the government doesn’t step in to “fix” things immediately.

July 30, 1865—The view of our financial situation taken above, although somewhat sombre, as compared with ante-war times, need occasion no serious apprehension. Taxes, of course, must be imposed to raise three hundred and fifty millions and they must pinch a great number of persons at some point. But if our country was no larger than an average European sovereignty; if it contained resources no more abundant; if its population were no more intelligent and enterprising as a whole; if we had not already twice paid off in full a national debt-there is still this great difference between us and Europe to be taken into account: We have no landed aristocracy to support, withdrawing its third from the produce of every field, and forest, and mine, and river, before they who extract the elements of wealth can put forth their hands, and eat and live. No such incubus oppresses our buoyant energies; dictates to us the conditions on which it is willing we may earn a livelihood; encourages the growth or diminution of population and industry, to suit its own whims or caprices. This makes all the difference in the world in our favor. The money which is wrung every year out of the agriculture of Great Britain, would alone suffice to meet our entire interest charge and redeem the principal of our debt in less than a hundred years. Of such demands our American farmer knows nothing. Better than all, of the spirit of serfdom, generated in such a social relationship, he knows nothing. For the preservation of that lofty independence, which has never to “beg a brother of the earth to give him leave to toil,” the farmer, equally with the merchant, the manufacturer, the mechanic, the professional man, and the day laborer, will not stand idly and see the government dishonored.